A six-county effort to extend broadband into rural towns in the Adirondacks and elsewhere in northern New York was dealt a substantial setback Monday, as federal officials announced the counties' pending $39 million grant application through CBN Connect was not approved.
In their announcement, the federal authorities gave no reason for their denial of the stimulus-funds grant application that would have bankrolled a sprawling fiber-optic network. Area officials last year characterized this proposed broadband circuit as vital to the economic survival of Adirondack communities. The giant fiber-optic loop would have brought telecommunication and high-speed Internet service to vast regions of Essex, Clinton, Franklin, Warren, Hamilton and Washington counties.
The network was envisioned to help boost job opportunities in the region and prompt extensive improvements in services related to education, health care, public service and commerce. The proposed broadband infrastructure was to include high-speed Internet connections, wireless phone, television, and data transmission - serving hospitals and health clinics, colleges and secondary schools and law enforcement authorities as well as businesses and residents.
Warren County Board of Supervisors chairman Fred Monroe said the news of the grant denial, which he received Monday morning, was "distressing."
"This is a huge disappointment, and the consequences are enormous," he said. "This broadband initiative was vital to the greater Adirondack region - it was the number-one priority of Congressman Murphy's office."
Monroe said he received an e-mail announcing the grant denial from Howard Lowe of CBN Connect, which is affiliated with SUNY Plattsburgh.
Lowe said Monday the broadband application was ranked second in the state.
CBN applied for first round stimulus monies last year, but was denied. Backed by local and state officials - as well as federal representatives - the organization reapplied this year with a significantly improved application.
Lowe cited stiff competition the reason for its second-round demise.
"We know our application was very competitive, but there is a limited amount of funds and many good applications from all over the country," he said. "They don't share their ranking process with us, but we think it's probably a fair one."
The 203 successful federal broadband grants, announced Monday by the U.S. Commerce Dept., can be found at www.commerce.gov\News/press-releases. The website cites that the successful grants are the "final awards" under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act's broadband initiative.
The grant denial was a surprise to local officials, who had attended regional broadband forum at which federal officials, who were slated to review the grants, listened intently to the North Country's critical communication needs and depressed economies - and these officials had expressed positivism about the grant application's prospects.
Murphy and various regional economic development officials could not be reached Monday evening for comment.
A total of $206.8 million in broadband grant awards announced Monday include grants supporting similar projects in California and Colorado.
The broadband network, as proposed in the grant application, was to feature fiber-optic hubs in Glens Falls, Chestertown and Ticonderoga.
The plans called for constructing a 425-mile loop through Essex, Franklin and Clinton counties, serving 22 communities. This optic-cable circuit would stretch in an arch across northern New York from the St. Regis Mohawk reservation eastward through Malone and Rouses Point, then south to Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga. This circuit was expected to be extended through rural Warren, Hamilton and Washington counties in a second phase of the proposed buildout.
A northern portion of the loop was funded late last year in a $39.7 million grant award to a partnership headed up by the Development Authority of the North Country. The award funded broadband access in New York's western and far-north counties.
The CBN Connect's broadband network for Clinton, Franklin, Essex, Warren, Hamilton and Washington counties was expected to be constructed and active within two years.
Lowe said late Monday that his organization would be seeking other sources of funding for their six-county broadband plans.
Northern new York wasn't entirely ignored in the most recent federal broadband awards doling out stimulus funds.
The grants announced Monday included a $642,000 award to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to fund five new public computer centers with 60 workstations to provide career training to about 500 users each week.
Lowe said that CBN Connect's board of directors, at their upcoming October meeting, will be discussing the prospects of broadband in the North Country in light of the grant denial.
. "We're still assessing what our next steps are," he said.
(Jon Alexander of WNBZ Radio News contributed to this report.)